The European Council has authorized the opening of negotiations for a new partnership with the UK, and mandated the Commission to act as the EU’s negotiator.

The Council reached its decision on February 25. The UK formally left the EU on January 31.

The negotiating directives adopted by the Council are based on the draft recommendation put forward by the Commission. The directives define the scope and terms of the future partnership that the EU envisages having with the UK. The directives cover all areas of interest for the negotiations, including trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence, and participation in Union programs.

According to the Council, the EU wants to establish an ambitious, wide-ranging, and balanced economic partnership with the UK. The mandate stresses that the future partnership should be underpinned by robust commitments to ensure a level playing field for open and fair competition, given the geographic proximity of the EU and UK, and their economic interdependence.

The EU intends to establish a free trade agreement with the UK, which would ensure that zero tariffs and quotas apply for trade in goods. The EU wants the agreement to provide for cooperation on customs and regulatory aspects, and provide for effective management and supervision, dispute settlement, and enforcement arrangements.

The Commission will agree with the UK the dates for the first negotiating sessions. The first formal meeting between the EU and the UK negotiators is expected to take place in early March.

Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, the State Secretary for European Affairs of Croatia, which currently holds the rotating Council presidency, said: “The Council has adopted a clear and strong mandate for our negotiator, Michel Barnier. This confirms our readiness to offer an ambitious, wide-ranging, and balanced partnership to the UK for the benefit of both sides. The EU is now ready to start negotiations.”